Mixed martial arts (MMA) has brought many new insights about effective fighting techniques and training methods. One of the biggest realizations is the enormous potential of combining high-level wrestling with elite striking skills. Wrestlers who transition to MMA and take the time to learn boxing, kickboxing or Muay Thai can become truly dynamic and dangerous fighters.
However, simply being accomplished in wrestling and striking does not automatically make someone a great MMA fighter. To really excel, athletes must properly integrate these disciplines so they work synergistically together. This article will explore strategies and examples for harnessing the power of synthesized wrestling and striking in MMA competition.
Cutting Off the Cage and Dictating the Fight
Fighters who come from a primarily striking background cannot afford to be hyper-aggressive with their stand-up attacks. If they recklessly push forward, they become vulnerable to being tackled and controlled on the mat. As a result, these strikers use careful movement and distance management to avoid potential wrestling exchanges altogether.
In contrast, fighters with a wrestling base inherently want to be in close, grinding, gritty positions. Therefore, they should not emulate elusive counter-strikers and instead play the role of the aggressor. Their goal is to cut off the cage and dictate the fight.
Backing an opponent up towards the fence or ropes limits their movement. This allows the wrestler to explode for takedowns and clinch transitions. Once a superior wrestler gets their opponent against the cage, they have effectively taken away the striking advantage.
The Dangers of the Fence for Strikers
When an opponent has their back pinned against the fence or ropes, they have very few options to avoid damage:
- Covering up with a tight guard often leads to just absorbing excessive strikes.
- Initiating a clinch plays right into the wrestler’s strengths and allows them to continue imposing grappling exchanges.
- Attempting to strike back is extremely difficult due to the limited space and distance.
In boxing and kickboxing matches, swinging back when trapped along the ropes rarely goes well for the defender. Their feet are squared up, their stance is flattened, and their opponent can evade strikes by ducking into a clinch.
However, in MMA the wrestler has additional tools to exploit their fence-trapped opponent. They can attack with a combination of strikes, elbows and knees, and then seamlessly transition into a takedown or body lock when retaliation comes. This allows for unending waves of offence.
Integrating Striking and Wrestling for MMA
To achieve the full benefit of being an elite wrestler who has developed dangerous striking skills, athletes must blend these tools together. The wrestling should open opportunities for impactful strikes, and the strikes should create openings for takedowns.
Flurrying into Takedowns
One of the most effective tactics is to flurry with strikes when the opponent is pinned on the fence. Attack with punches, elbows, knees and kicks, mixing up high and low. As soon as they attempt to fire back or re-establish distance, change levels and penetrate for a takedown.
Smothering them on the fence takes away much of their defensive mobility. When they try to swing back, their feet will be flat and their base unstable. This makes shooting for takedowns easier.
Striking Off the Break
Anytime contact between the two fighters is broken, whether from separating on the fence or completing a takedown, the wrestler should look to explode into a striking blitz. Launch into punching combinations as the opponent attempts to reset their footing and stance.
Most fighters are mentally relaxed the moment after a break, so they are unprepared for an immediate onslaught of strikes. Their hands are often down and their feet out of position.
In the clinch position, wrestlers should not remain completely defensive. Use one arm to frame and control the opponent, while attacking with short punches, elbows and uppercuts using the free hand. This taxes the opponent’s defense and mental focus, weakening their ability to defend against takedowns.
Dirty boxing along the fence helps the wrestler land damage while waiting for opportune moments to change levels or gain dominant clinch position.
Common Mistakes to Avoid
While integrating wrestling and striking has huge advantages, it is also easy for fighters to make strategic and tactical mistakes. Here are some pitfalls wrestlers should be aware of:
Kickboxing from Distance
Some aggressive wrestlers become overeager with their new striking skills and abandon their wrestling prowess. They sit back in a lengthy boxing stance and trade punches from a distance. This wastes opportunities to explode into takedowns and clinch fighting range.
When flurrying against a trapped opponent, wrestlers should not throw stepping punches that require them to switch their feet or break their stance. Lunging lead hand switches or shifting combinations leave them vulnerable to counters. It is smarter to remain balanced and limit space.
Striking at Distance
During striking exchanges along the fence, wrestlers must avoid creating too much space between themselves and the opponent. If there is room for full-power strikes, the opponent can fire back with force. It is better to stay compact and tight.
Implementing Integrated MMA Skills
Learning to smoothly blend wrestling and striking skills takes considerable time and dedication. But the payoff can be tremendous. Here are some tips:
- Drill wrestling takedowns and striking combos back-to-back to get comfortable transitioning between the two.
- Practice flurrying into takedown shots against a fence or ropes to ingrain the pattern.
- Work on immediately opening up with strikes as you separate from a clinch position.
- Use offensive wrestling early in fights to create openings for powerful fight-ending strikes later on.
- Build off basic combinations: for example, strike – shoot – ground strikes – stand back up – more strikes.
With clever integrated training methods and technical execution, wrestlers can become truly dynamic and dangerous MMA competitors.
Integrating Wrestling and Striking at Apex MMA
Here at Apex MMA in Brookvale, our beginner MMA classes teach students to blend wrestling and striking seamlessly together. Under the guidance of our coaches, you’ll learn to leverage these complementary skill sets for maximum effectiveness. If you live in Sydney’s Northern Beaches area and have an interest in training MMA, we encourage you to enrol for a free 7-day trial in one of our beginner classes.